Friday, June 15, 2012
An Illinois Hearing Board has recommended a censure in a matter that involved ex parte communications with a friend who was serving as a purportedly neutral arbitrator:
The Respondent's misconduct was serious. The Respondent's exchange of e-mails, on an ex parte basis, with Workers' Compensation Commission Arbitrator Jennifer Teague, was prejudicial to the administration of justice in two workers' compensation matters. Certainly, the bedrock of any legal proceeding or system of justice is a fair and impartial presiding official, either a judicial or administrative official. The ex parte communications between the Respondent and Teague made it appear that Teague was not fair and impartial. In such a situation, public confidence in the Workers Compensation Commission is jeopardized, if not destroyed.
As to sanction:
In aggravation, the Respondent did not show any recognition or understanding of her misconduct. Likewise, she showed no remorse. In In re Mason, 122 Ill. 2d 163, 173-74, 522 N.E.2d 1233 (1988), the Court stated:
An attorney's failure to recognize the wrongfulness of his conduct often necessitates a greater degree of discipline than is otherwise necessary, in order that the attorney will come to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct and not again victimize members of the public with such misconduct.
See also In re Lewis, 138 Ill. 2d 310, 348, 562, N.E.2d 198 (1990) (lack of remorse is an aggravating factor).
There is also mitigation in this case. The Respondent has been licensed to practice law in Illinois since May 2007, and has no prior discipline. Also, she was fully cooperative with the ARDC throughout her disciplinary proceedings. We also considered the Respondent's lack of experience as an attorney and her misguided friendship with Arbitrator Teague as factors that contributed to her lapses in sound judgment in regard to the ex parte e-mails. See In re Armentrout, 99 Ill. 2d 242, 254, 457 N.E.2d 1262 (1983). Further, a partner in the law firm where Respondent's was previously employed testified that she has a favorable reputation for being an honest and ethical attorney.
The board noted the disposition of another case involving improper communications with the same arbitrator.
ABA Journal had this earlier coverage. (Mike Frisch)